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Site Last Update: 19 Nov, 2019
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African Proverb of the Month
August, 2002

Nyana-so ni nyu do doun, keh do za-nyohn de ke. (Bassa)
Smoke does not affect honeybees alone; honey-gatherers are also affected. (English)


Bassa ( liberia ) Proverb

Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

This proverb means "Do not ruin your life by malicious gossip."The Bassa people in Liberia in West Africa describe honey as "food cooked in God's town." As such, it is delicious and needs nothing added to it. Men eagerly hunt for honeycombs stored in holes in old trees. To gather the honey from these hives, one has to first smoke the bees out of the hives or they will sting him. While smoking the bees out by burning some old clothes or raw leaves at the holes, the honey-gatherers also suffer from the smoke.

From this experience the Bassa elders developed this proverb to warn all troublemakers. Like those who smoke the bees, talebearers go around to cause a lot of trouble and misunderstanding among relatives and friends. What they do not realize is that they are also causing trouble for themselves. When they are caught for spreading lies or gossiping, they are beaten and jailed for creating misunderstanding and disrupting the life of the community.

Biblical Parallels

These are biblical parallels warning of gossip and malice:

  1. A person reaps what he or she sows. (Galatians 6:7).


  2. Do not spread lies about anyone, and when someone is on trial for his life, speak out if your testimony can help him. I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:16).
  3. Haman, son of Hammedatha -- the descendant of Agag and the enemy of the Jewish people -- had cast lots (or "purim," as they were called) to determine the day for destroying the Jews; he had planned to wipe them out. But Esther went to the king, and the king issued written orders with the result that Haman suffered the fate he had planned for the Jews -- he and his sons were hanged from the gallows (see Esther 9: 24-25).
  4. Without wood, a fire goes out; without gossip, quarrelling stops" (Proverbs 26: 20).
  5. They also learn to waste their time in going round from house to house; but even worse, they learn to be gossips and busybodies, talking of things they should not. (1 Timothy 5: 13).

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

Although the Bassa tradition frowns on gossiping, gossipmongers are still found in many ethnic group communities using undercover methods and hiding behind some leaders and important persons in the community. But since the evil of gossip is roughly equivalent to the evil of witchcraft and the sentence of one guilty of witchcraft was usually death, in most cases no important person would be willing to defend a gossip once he was exposed. Thus the proverb was made to teach against the evil practice of gossip and prevent it if possible. Those who plan evil for others will suffer the same evil. A troublemaker makes trouble for him or herself.

People who intend to disrupt the relationships in a community through gossip are setting themselves against the community and against God. Nothing good can come of this. They cause damage and they receive damage. They are walking on the road of fools, heading toward their own ruin.

Dr. Abba Karnga (from Buchanan, Liberia)
c/o Mary Dehn
2720 Linden St., Unit 12,
Bethlehem, PA 18017 U.S.A.

Telephone: (610) 433-9332

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